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Theatrical Politics 

by Robert Herold & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he recent House "debates" over the Iraq withdrawal issue serve to show that even now, after 12 years out of power, Democrats still don't get it.


There was Nancy Pelosi making her case to get out of Iraq when the "case" wasn't even the issue. The real issue was, or should have been, confidence in the president to prosecute the war. What Pelosi and her fellow Democrats don't understand is that the Republicans aren't at all interested in addressing this issue. Republicans, since Newt Gingrich showed them how it was done, have excelled at the art of political theater whether in the minority or, since 1994, in the majority.


Democrats such as Pelosi, however, continue to think and act as if they were involved in the traditional deliberative process. The Congress, especially the House of Representatives, hasn't been engaged in anything approaching deliberation for almost a decade. Because Democrats don't understand -- or at least give no evidence of understanding -- what's really going on, they end up playing straight men and women to the Republican-controlled Congress.


The so-called "non-binding" House resolution regarding withdrawal from Iraq was just that: political theater. In complete control of the House, the GOP leadership would not permit even the consideration of an amendment or an alternative resolution. They had the votes. They were determined to make a statement in support of the president -- but since Bush's public opinion approval wallows in the low 30s, they sought to give him support indirectly by forcing the Democrats to take a stand on the question of withdrawal.


Democrats, you see, are suckers for this kind of challenge, because they continue to believe that issues, debates, discussion, compromise, consideration, and all the other stuff that goes with the ideal of deliberation, matter. And, apparently, they assume that when the Republicans raise a question such as withdrawing from Iraq, they mean to have it addressed. Silly congressmen. Republicans don't mean this at all.


Because they control, well, everything in the House, they only want a podium, a symbolic gesture, and most of all they want to have the opportunity to once again show a face of resolution, which to their so-called "base" looks real tough when compared with those willy-nilly Democrats who can't agree even amongst themselves. Who would you want to govern? That's the not-so-hidden question: Do you want the party that is resolute or the party that can't decide?





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & N & lt;/span & ow, of course, we all know that the wheres and whens of this most screwed-up international adventure are not so easily reduced. Silly lines such as "cut and run," to mention the most often used Republican line during the "debate," are not merely trivial but downright dangerous in a complex world. So Democrats, who see the complexity, plod ahead, trying to make their points, trying to address the ambiguity, the unevenness, the problems and, yes, the many administration failures. But they are merely the straight men and women. They will lose this debate and by losing they will underscore their weakness -- weakness made even more obvious through their inability even to resolve as a party to act or not act.


Pelosi would have done her party a favor had she made no speeches at all. After waiting for the right time, such as after comments by Rep. Murtha, the Democrats' most credible witness for withdrawal, Pelosi should have offered up an alternative proposal. She should have raised the question of confidence in the president and his administration. Had she not wanted to take on Bush directly, she could have gone after a more obvious target of opportunity: Donald Rumsfeld, whom no one supports any longer.


The resolution might have read:


Resolved, that in the manner of the conduct of the war in Iraq, following three years of incompetent and often disastrous leadership, following a strategy that has served to reduce America's prestige around the world and brought about unnecessary fatalities and suffering in Iraq, both among American military and Iraqis, that has brought massive deficit spending which threatens America's long term economic prosperity, and following untold violations of international law and protocol, the House of Representatives retracts any and all previously supported resolutions which might be construed as a vote of confidence in the president and his administration.





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & O & lt;/span & f course, Republican's would not allow such a proposal to get to the floor, let alone be debated and voted upon. With the deliberative process so compromised, Pelosi, speaking for a unanimous party, should have expressed her dismay and said in no uncertain terms that her party would no longer be part of a sham, a political game, cheap political theater. Then the entire Democratic contingent should have marched out of the chamber. Once out on the front steps of the Capitol, Pelosi should have reiterated her dismay at how the Republicans have hijacked the deliberative process. Then she could introduce, in front of the TV cameras (just like old Newt used to do), the resolution the Republican-controlled House wouldn't allow to be introduced. A vote should then be taken, to unanimous support.


Theater would have been supplanted by more theater.


What do Democrats think the Contract With America was all about? Public policy? Real change? No, it was nothing more than disingenuous political theater played out symbolically. Democrats don't seem to understand how to work at the level of symbolism.
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